Of the Belleville Three, the cadre of early Detroit producers who tested the limits of spirit within electronic dance music and changed the integrity of the form forever, Derrick May's reputation as an originator remained intact despite more than a decade of recording inactivity. While Juan Atkins is rightly looked at as the godfather of techno, with a recording career beginning in the electro scene of the early '80s and encompassing some of the most inspired tracks in the history of dance music; and Kevin Saunderson is the Detroit producer with the biggest mainstream success through his work with vocalist Paris Grey as Inner City, May's position as an auteur eroded slightly during the 1990s due to a largely inexplicable lack of activity. As far as influence counts as part of the equation, however, May recorded the techno tracks which top dance producers point to as the most original and influential. The classic Derrick May sound is a clever balance between streamlined percussion-heavy cascades of sound with string samples and a warmth gained from time spent in Chicago, enraptured by the grooves of essential DJs like Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles. May's Transmat Records label was the home of his best material, cuts like "Nude Photo," "Strings of Life," "Kaos" and "It Is What It Is," most produced from 1987 to 1989 as Rhythim Is Rhythim. And though his release schedule all but halted during the 1990s, he continued DJing around the world and honed Transmat into one of the most respected techno labels in the world.
Derrick May was born in Detroit in 1963, a single child raised largely by his mother. At the age of 13, he began attending school in the suburb of Belleville; there he met Juan Atkins and the two began trading mix-tapes, Atkins providing May's entry into the world of Parliament, Kraftwerk and Gary Numan. When his mother moved to Chicago, May stayed in Detroit with another friend, Kevin Saunderson, to finish school. By 1981, Atkins had taught May and Saunderson the essence of DJing as well, and the trio formed Deep Space Soundworks, a collective existing to present their favorite music at parties and clubs. May and Atkins also began working with a local DJ named the Electrifyin' Mojo — the man who first introduced Atkins to Kraftwerk and early synth-pop — by creating elaborate megamixes for use on Mojo's radio show.
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